Featured New Release Of The Week: Under A Sky Of Memories by Soraya M Lane

This week we’re looking at a visceral and harrowing fictionalized version of a real-world WWII event that even with my intense fascination with that period, I’d never heard of before reading this book. This week we’re looking at Under A Sky Of Memories by Soraya M. Lane.

Visceral, Harrowing, And Heartbreaking. Yet again Lane manages to take an event out of WWII, fictionalize a story into it, and show just how real and relatable it must have been to have been the real people involved here. The motivations for our three primary women here are distinct but relatable, and their journeys through the tale are seemingly all too real – so many times, you’re going to find yourself dreading that the worst is about to happen. In the end, you will likely shed tears of both happiness and heartbreak – and particularly when joined with the resources in the Author’s Note, you’ll likely learn a few things too. As in, despite both mine and my father’s life long “obsession” with WWII (in his case due to how it shaped his father and in mine due to how it shaped *both* of my grandfathers in dramatically different ways), even I had never heard of this particular event that Lane bases the story around here. Once again a very fine piece of researched fiction from Lane, and very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Sapphires Are A Guy’s Best Friend by Nicola Marsh

This week we’re looking at a romance tale that manages to tell three separate second chance stories all in one excellent tale that combines second chance romance with the world of high fashion. This week we’re looking at Sapphires Are A Guy’s Best Friend by Nicola Marsh.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Fun Merger Of Haute Couture. Jewelry, and Second Chance Romance. This is a really fun and fairly short (barely 200 pages) look at the glitzy and glamorous world of high end fashion… which Marsh then wraps a solid second chance – in more ways than one – romance into. Solidly written such that both the business and the personal are given their fair due and are equally compelling, this is *not* one for the “clean”/ “sweet” crowd. But for those that appreciate a good amount of steam – maybe not enough for a sauna, but easily enough to set off a smoke alarm… you’re gonna like this one. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle

This week we’re looking at the perfect book to end your 2021 with a bang reading. This week we’re looking at My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle.

Hole E Sheet! Belle tosses us into the fire from the get-go… and only turns up the gas. All the way until the closing moments. If you’re a fan of Panic Room / The Purge type thrillers, you’re going to *love* this one, where roughly half of the action takes place as a stranger holds a family inside their house – with the other half being the husband/ father of the family racing to try to save them. An interesting story mechanic is also thrown in for good measure, and between the heavy foreshadowing with this and the frequent (usually chapter heading) timestamps driving just how quickly the clock is turning to the pivotal moment… you really are in for a wild ride with this one. There *is* some minor commentary late that is more YMMV, and while it does speak to motivations (as close as I’ll get to mentioning anything remotely specific), it isn’t actually truly essential to anything. Which is why its inclusion is a bit of an irritating note in the aftertaste of the book but isn’t any real reason to like the book any less. If you want to end your year on a bang… you might consider making sure you have this book when it releases in the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2021. 🙂 Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt followed by the various “publisher details”, including the official description of the book, an author bio, social media links, and buy links.
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle”

Featured New Release Of The Week: In An Office by Janey Klunder

This week, for the first time since I began this book blog, we’re looking at a book that I actually had a hand in bringing forth. This week we’re looking at In An Office by Janey Klunder.

I met Janey nearly a decade ago when I was working a project I called Autism Through Our Eyes – a project that lives on in the name I use when publishing Janey’s books, Autism Through Our Eyes Publishing. This is the fifth book we’ve published together, with Janey writing them and doing most of her own marketing, and me helping with getting them actually into Amazon (sometimes even in print form), including actually writing the official description of the book, and doing at least some marketing/ publicity myself.

And this was the first book where I actually included a Publisher’s Note at the end, pointing out just how real this book is for so very many Autistics and providing a “Recommended Reading” section of a few books I’ve reviewed on this very site regarding Autism from a more nonfiction perspective, including Neurotribes by Steven Silberman, We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia, On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr, and The Pattern Seekers by Simon Baron-Cohen.

So with all of this noted up front, here’s the review that I put on Goodreads:

Intriguing Ideas. This is a book that explores a couple of ideas unlike any I’ve ever seen before – and this was book number 256 in 2021 alone for me. Specifically, the idea of community members simply helping each other, rather than having to have some formal, government “approved”, structure for doing so.

In one case here, we see a caring member of the community help an Autistic understand the world around her and figure out her place within it. And yes, while the exact scenario here can feel limiting, and one could want this character to want more for her life… as the Publisher’s Note says at the end, this is an all too real and all too common scenario for so many Autistics, and it is refreshing to see it portrayed so well and with such care in fiction. (Possibly not hurt by the fact that the author herself is Autistic.)

In the other case here, when the owners of a Bed and Breakfast suddenly and tragically die in a fire, their son comes up with an “insane idea” to redirect the facility in a new and interesting way… that ultimately helps its community in ways that no government program ever really could. The author never knew this (until she sees this review), but other than the specific focus on LGBTQ+ people, this is actually eerily similar to an idea I myself had in my teens about how a then-friend and I could eventually help our own community. (Note: This never actually came to pass, for a variety of reasons, but I’m glad to see the idea being independently revived in fiction.)

Overall truly a powerful work for the ideas it introduces to the zeitgeist, a powerful exposition of the lives of so many Autistics, and a solid story even without these particular things. Very much recommended.

(Disclosure: While I had no part in actually writing the narrative of this book, I did assist the author in getting it into KDP and Autism Through Our Eyes Publishing, the publisher of this book, is my own project.)

And because I can, here’s an excerpt from the book – Chapter 1, to be precise. 🙂

No one within a half-mile radius would ever forget the night of the fire. It hadn’t spread to any of the surrounding buildings – as it turned out, it had only been contained to one part of the house – but still, almost everyone in the street had been woken by the fire engines. Many of the elderly residents had stood in the road in their dressing gowns in the warm August weather, fretting: Where were Miriam and Angus? Had they made it out in time? They had been running the popular B&B for decades now without any issues. There was only a small amount of smoke visible from the street; no burning heat could be felt from where they stood. And Miriam was a larger-than-life personality, loved by everyone… Nothing could take her down. Right?

Soon Miriam and Angus were taken away on stretchers. Sent to the hospital. They weren’t moving. But surely they’d be all right?

When a very sad-looking fireman finally came up to break the news to the group, nobody could believe it. Miriam and Angus were only in their early sixties – how could they be gone? How could something as simple as a small electrical fault have taken them away, when they were so cheerful and full of life? They had been such a close family – how would their son and niece cope without them?

Unfortunately no one had those answers. And a week and a half later, when their niece, Josie, stepped out of her shower and rubbed her still-red eyes, she still had no answers. She was tallish, dark-haired and pretty, but there was little joy in her face as she dried herself off, pulled on her dressing gown and let her damp hair down. With a sigh, she headed out of her bedroom.

The old-fashioned strip light in her kitchen was blindingly bright, and she winced as it flicked on. As she only rented her flat, swapping the light out for something a bit less harsh was sadly not an option. Josie’s tastes in interior design were very specific, to say the least, and it often pained her to prepare her meals underneath something so ugly and industrial-looking.

Alongside three identical Mason jars containing sugar, tea and the regular instant coffee she served to visitors was the much smaller jar of Beanies Creamy Caramel flavoured instant that her amazing aunt had introduced her to. Making up her own travel mug was a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks five mornings a week, but Josie still felt guilty on occasion about the amount of sugar she needed to add to her morning coffee to make it even remotely tasty. She went through a lot of granulated sugar for a woman who hardly ever did any baking.

“Never apologise for having specific tastes in anything,” Aunt Miriam had said. “Be glad that you live in a world where making those choices is an option for you. Not everyone has it so lucky.”

Josie’s heart ached, as it had most days for the past week and a half. They were really gone. Two of her favourite people of all time were never going to give her great advice or celebrate with her or even speak to her ever again. She had dealt with personal grief before, but not as an adult. It was somehow more difficult to deal with…

Deep breath, honey. Deep breath. It’s got to be tougher for Sawyer and you two have something big to tackle today…

Once her coffee was finally ready, she sank down into her favourite armchair in the living room and pulled her laptop onto her knee. As it flickered to life, she was greeted with the home screen her older cousin had set up for her a couple of months ago. An enormous countdown with bright pink words that filled the entire screen with a reminder she’d sooner have forgotten about.

297 DAYS TO GO UNTIL YOU’RE 30!

Sawyer had celebrated his thirtieth birthday four years earlier by spending two weeks in Alicante and getting drunk with a handsome señor on the beach every night, which wasn’t really Josie’s style. And on her current wage, it seemed unlikely that she could afford it anyway. Still, she could already hear Sawyer’s counterargument to her protests. Then why don’t you take a few days off work and book two nights in a spa hotel or a log cabin with a hot tub?

“Thirty, divorced and on holiday alone?” she muttered aloud, without really meaning to. “That is so lame…”

Determined not to think about the big three-oh – especially now that her aunt and uncle wouldn’t even be around to celebrate it with her – she checked her emails (nothing out of the ordinary) followed by Facebook (a few notifications, nothing to get excited about) plus a quick, naughty peek at Pinterest (Oh God, I love that wallpaper… and that dresser… and those bathroom tiles… Would that rug fit in my bedroom?)

Then, slightly less cheerfully, she opened up Tinder. She hadn’t particularly wanted to join, but Sawyer had pestered her into it – which, annoyingly, he was highly skilled at after almost a whole lifetime of practice.

“Come on, it’s been over a year since Conrad moved out,” he had said. “And even longer since you last got laid, am I right?”

Josie would rather have covered herself in jam and sat on a wasp nest than admit it to him, but he was right. Her efforts on Tinder hadn’t turned out many favourable results so far, however, and her latest match hadn’t seemed very promising.

Uh oh… Three new messages. With a weary sigh, she opened up the chat log – and it was exactly as she had expected.

So wut u up 2 this wknd?

Hello? Why u not answrin?

I thot you were better than just disappearin on a nice guy!

“Well, here we go again,” she said to the room at large, sipping her coffee and bracing herself for utter honesty. When she was ghosted before there could even be a first date, she accepted it and moved on. Why did men always have to lash out when their pride was hurt?

Robin,

Despite the fact that I do look young for my age (thanks for noticing), I’m approaching 30, not 13. Hate to break it to you but not many self-respecting women in my age bracket will put up with some of the behaviours you’ve displayed during our ten-day “courtship”. Just a few examples being:

* Commenting that my profile pic makes me look like a hippie
* Telling me it sounds like I eat too much chocolate
* Saying that interior design isn’t a real hobby when you think that Rick’s nihilism in Rick & Morty is something to be admired
* Dissing my favourite colour
* Saying you find cats annoying
* Describing your ex as a “psycho”
* Using the phrase “Piers Morgan had a point”
* Saying you’d message me on Tuesday evening and then not bothering until Thursday morning
* Claiming that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt

You can pretend I inserted the phrase “no offence” here if you like, but all that makes you sound like an asshole, and I’m on here looking for something genuine.
Josie

P.S. I would also advise you against expressing pride that you share a first name with the guy who sang ‘Blurred Lines’.

And send.

“Another one bites the dust.” Josie rubbed her eyes and sighed again. “Don’t know why I bother…”

Her gaze fell upon the well-thumbed copy of He’s Just Not That Into You that sat on her shelf. She had tried her best to follow Greg Behrendt’s sage advice since she was around seventeen, although the lack of decent, local, available men had really been getting her down recently.

A loud ping drew her attention back to Facebook. She had received a multi-recipient message, and as soon as she saw who it was from, she blushed bright pink.
Sorry for those of you who this affects, but the Wednesday morning class is cancelled! Got to take my old mum up to the hospital, my apologies!

This change in scheduling by the owner of the gym she attended didn’t affect Josie herself – she worked full-time and could only make the evening classes – but any communication from her very handsome instructor set her face flaming.

I am such a cliché…

The ring of her phone, thankfully, distracted her from that depressing thought. She picked it up and groaned; the number on the screen was all too familiar. I should have seen this coming. And under any other circumstances, she would have ignored it – she normally only had to endure these calls at Christmas time – but instead, her thumb moved of its own accord and pressed ‘Answer’.

“Hello?” Completely casual.

“Hi, Josie… It’s me.”

“Hi,” she said blankly.

“How… how are you holding up? We… uh… we heard about the accident. It’s been such a horrible shock.”

Despite her initial annoyance, Josie found herself thawing a little; there was real choked-up emotion in the woman’s voice. Even if you hadn’t seen someone in years, it could still be quite jarring to be told they were gone and you’d never have a chance at seeing them again.

“Um… I’ve not been too bad, I guess. Still just working and that. I’m meeting up with Sawyer this morning to talk about the funeral.”

“Yes… well, that’s why we’re calling. Ahem.” Embarrassed pause. “When is the date?”

“Erm… I can’t remember, actually.” Lies. “But we’re currently in the middle of arranging it all… You should get an official notice in the mail within the next week or so.”

“Right. Uh… thank you.” Another embarrassed pause. “How is Conrad?”

Internal scream. “He’s… doing fine, last time I heard. He lives pretty far away now; we only really catch up now and again.”

“Anyone… new in your life, then, honey?”

Josie managed not to snort, but it was a close one. Yeah, like she really cares. “No. Not at the moment.”

“Oh, right.” Pause. “Well, um… we don’t know for certain if we’ll be able to make the journey, but we’ll certainly let you know. Once we’ve decided.”

“Of course.” Josie’s voice was flat. There wasn’t much point in asking them what they’d been up to; they never did anything exciting.

“You… take it easy, then, hun.”

“You too. Bye!” She hung up faster than was perhaps polite, but every call from them was exactly the same.

Here’s hoping Sawyer’s prepared to let me rant a bit.

Josie dressed relatively quickly and sat down at her tiny vanity table. She swirled an Avon cream blush stick across both cheeks, then rolled her eyes at her reflection. As if it mattered to Sawyer whether she wore makeup or not.

Although maybe he might be pleased that I’m making the effort, just on the off chance that there are any cute single straight men in the cafe…

Several minutes later she grabbed her bag, stepped out of her front door – and was promptly accosted by her favourite tiny terror.

“Oh, hi, Scraps!” she beamed, her entire face lighting up at once as she bent down to pet the gorgeous little brown dachshund that skipped excitedly around her ankles.

“Morning, Josie,” said her elderly neighbour, who was only halfway up the stairs with a bright red leash in one hand. “He always runs ahead when he hears your door open!”

Josie loved little dogs and had dog-sat for Patricia on a few occasions. “How’s he getting on?”

“More fighting fit than me, that’s for sure,” Patricia chuckled as she reached them. She bent down with a small wince and scooped the excitable dog up into her arms. “Come on, sweetheart, we’ve got some special treats for you! Have a nice day, Josie.”

They disappeared inside, and for the first time in a while, Josie was able to smile a little.

Guess family isn’t always just people…

Featured New Release Of The Week: Why She Left by Leah Mercer

This week we’re looking at a solid family drama that has some elements of mystery and even a few of suspense – but is completely grounded within the family drama. This week we’re looking at Why She Left by Leah Mercer.

Solid Family Drama With Some Mystery. Reading through the Goodreads reviews (as I do before writing my own), a lot of the more negative reviews (anything less than 4* is considered by Goodreads/ Amazon to be negative, fwiw) tended to center around complaints that this book wasn’t a suspense/ thriller. And yet looking around through the description and other materials available, I find no claims from the publisher that this is a suspense or a thriller. The closest claim is that it is a “suspenseful family drama”, which is 100% accurate. There was an event years ago that caused one daughter to flee, and there are a few different events in the present day that build a decent amount of suspense (for a family drama, which is truly what this is, anyway). Yes, the years-ago event becomes rather obvious rather quickly – *hopefully* Mercer intended that. But there are many more wrinkles here that aren’t so obvious, and even my usually fairly perceptive reading didn’t actually catch some of the bigger reveals until they were actually revealed. Indeed, arguably the one true weakness here I can think of isn’t actually one anyone else has cited – it is never truly established just how bad the situation the returning daughter is fleeing from now actually was. Still, for what this tale *actually* is, and seems to *actually* be being marketed as, this is actually a fairly solid story that will trigger some in a variety of ways but which is a truly solid story for most everyone else. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the various “publisher details” including book description, author bio, and social media links.
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: Why She Left by Leah Mercer”

Featured New Release Of The Week: Snowbound With Her Mountain Cowboy by Patricia Johns

This week we’re looking at a nearly 400 page romance with lots of secondary love stories embedded within it that reads much faster than its page count suggests. This week we’re looking at Snowbound With Her Mountain Cowboy by Patricia Johns.

Slow Burn Clean Second Chance Romance – With A Disaster. This is exactly what I noted in the title – a slow burn romance where the couple never really gets together until the very end, clean in that there is barely any kissing and certainly nothing beyond that (sorry, fans of near-erotica level steam), and featuring a couple that has been divorced far longer than they were ever married… but who neither ever quite got over the other. This one also has a few other love story tales embedded naturally within the story, all of which contribute nicely to the primary romance of the story here. Not short at nearly 400 pages, but does actually read a bit faster than other books of its length I’ve encountered. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” including book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: Snowbound With Her Mountain Cowboy by Patricia Johns”

Featured New Release Of The Week: Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson

This week we’re looking at yet another imaginative scifi romp from The Modern Day Master of Science Fiction. This week we’re looking at Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Avengers Level Event 2 Imminent! This book adds yet another compelling – and, by the end, truly powerful – character to the “Robinsonverse” being crafted by The Modern Day Master Of Science Fiction, Jeremy Robinson. We open up with an action packed scene showing off this character’s particular power in an awesome action scene, and we quickly get into an almost Scott Pilgrim vs The World vibe with a wide range of bad guys coming after our hero. We also get the clearest indications yet that the “Avengers Level Event 2” second crossover novel within the Robinsonverse is imminent, as certain characters appear near the 2/3 mark of the tale rather than just in the epilogue as is more normal in a Robinson book. And yes, we *also* get *another* cameo in the “after credits scene” epilogue. Truly an awesome scifi action tale, one with quite a bit of hilarity and a surprising amount of heart… and a surprising amount of F-bombs for an author not generally known for dropping them so casually. Very much recommended.

Update: After I wrote this review, Robinson officially announced his plans for what I call “Avengers Level Event 2”.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Dead Mercy by Noelle Holten

This week we’re looking at the newest entry in a police procedural saga that ultimately deals with some issues that have been in the real-world headlines. This week we’re looking at Dead Mercy by Noelle Holten.

Brutal Killings Ripped From (Somewhat Dated-ish) Headlines. Without going into spoiler-y territory, there are themes here that have been in the headlines and have been massive scandals over the last few decades – and which I believe even bigger scandals lay ahead, particularly in the direction this book ultimately goes.

The murders here are again particularly brutal, though perhaps not quite as straight up creepy as from Book 4, and this time no team member is imperiled – and yet Holten still manages to ramp up the tension almost as if they are.

This is labeled as Book 5, so that alone tells you that it *is* part of a series, and somewhat deep into it at that, but as a police procedural (even a British based one), it is still episodic enough that you can jump into the series with any particular episode, then backfill to see how the relationships amongst the team got to the point you first encountered them. And on that particular front, there are a couple of great reveals in this particular book, one from Jamieson herself and the other from another teammate in the closing paragraphs.

Yet another thrill a minute read that will keep you invested through all of its 400 pages. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Library by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen

This week we’re looking at a seemingly comprehensive and dense yet readable history of the idea of the library and its various incarnations throughout human history. This week, we’re looking at The Library by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen.

Comprehensive History. This is a fairly dense (yet readable) comprehensive history of humanity’s efforts to store its written words. We begin all the way back in ancient Mesopotamia with some discussion of even their clay tablets, and we come all the way through the digital and eReader era (which the authors are a bit more pessimistic about than this reader, who is admittedly a technologist). While other areas such as China, Africa, India, (modern) Australia, and Columbian era Middle America are mentioned at times, the vast majority of the focus of the discussion here is Euro-centric, with detailed discussions of American library systems once the discussion advances to the relevant time periods. Indeed, as it turns out, the “modern public library” as Americans know it today? Did not exist prior to WWII in any real form at all, though through the efforts of business titans such as Andrew Carnegie (discussed in much depth here in the text), the earlier forms of it were beginning by the late 19th century. Truly a fascinating book, but also truly a very long one. Anyone remotely interested in books and reading should probably at least consider reading this, as it really is a remarkable history of the book, its uses, and its storage. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu

This week we’re looking at the phenomenal final book from an author whose death shocked an entire subculture two and a half years ago. This week we’re looking at Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu.

A Return, But With Growth. This is one of the harder reviews I’ve ever written. Not because the book wasn’t amazing – this was easily Evans’ strongest book since Searching for Sunday, and thus the book that I’d always hoped she would be able to write again. But because of how it came about, and, perhaps, how it came to be in such strong form. Evans’ sudden illness and then death in the Spring of 2019 shocked any who had ever heard of her, and in fact on the day of her funeral I read Faith Unraveled as my own private funeral for this woman that had given voice to so many of my own thoughts in Searching For Sunday, thus gaining a fan, and yet who in subsequent books had strayed so far afield that even as a member of her “street team” for the last book she published before her death, Inspired, I couldn’t give it the glowing review expected of such members, and so felt I had to leave the group. This was something I actually discussed with both Evans and the PA that was leading the team, and neither one of them in any way suggested it – yet my own honor had demanded it.

With this book, finished from an unfinished manuscript by her friend Jeff Chu and clearly still in the research and pondering phases when Evans was suddenly cut from this reality, the commitments to her progressive ideals that ultimately derailed so much of Inspired still shine through, but the more humble, the more questioning nature of Searching For Sunday form much more of the substance of the book. Thus, for me, this book is truly both the best and the fullest representation of the Evans that I knew only through reading her books and occasionally speaking with her as a member of that street team. I’ve never read anything from Chu, so I don’t know his voice as an author, but there is truly nothing here that doesn’t sound as though Held herself wrote it – which actually speaks to just how much care Chu put into his own contributions, as there is truly no way to pull such seamlessness off without intense concentration and care.

I was tortured in writing my review of Inspired because Evans *was* someone I looked up to after Searching For Sunday. She was a contemporary, along with Jonathan Merritt, who grew up in a similar region and culture as I did and thus with whom I was able to identify so many similar experiences in similar times and places. (To be clear, if any of the three of us were ever in the same place – even the same evangelical Christian teen megaconference – at the same time growing up, I never knew of it.) And I am tortured now both because I of what I had to write in that review to maintain my sought-after as-close-to-objective-as-I-can-be standard of reviewing and because of what this particular book means in the face of her death over two years ago. But I do find solace in that even knowing all of this is going on in my head writing this review, there was truly nothing here that I could and would normally strike as objectively bad. There weren’t any claims of an absolute here – this went back to the more questioning and searching nature of Searching For Sunday rather than the more near-polemic nature of Inspired. There wasn’t even any real proof texting going on here – which is particularly great since it was Evans herself (along with some others) who actually started that particular war I wage every time I see the practice in a book. The writing was as beautiful as anything Evans has ever produced, and while the bibliography in this Advanced Review Copy was a bit scant at just 9% of the text, this also was a much more memoir-based book (yet again: more in the vein of Searching For Sunday) and thus scant bibliography is easily explained by specific genre.

And thus I feel that the 5* rating is objectively warranted, at least by my own standards, even as I fully understand that it could come across to some as any level of death-bias.

If this is truly the last book that will ever bear Rachel Held Evans’ name, I personally couldn’t have asked for a better one to be her finale. This is truly going out as strong as she possibly could, and thus it is absolutely very much recommended.